Zaid: Party was not ready for reform
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 — Three days since his resignation, former de facto law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim is still in the news.
Yesterday, he explained that his presence at an opposition-led gathering to set up a parliamentarian caucus against the ISA was his show of support in a cause he believed in — and one of the reasons he quit.
Zaid, 57, who is law-trained, had always maintained that the ISA should not be used for political purposes, but only on terrorists or anyone advocating violence.
He dispelled talk of joining the opposition, saying his Sept 16 decision had not been calculated.
He is still a Barisan Nasional senator.
He has plans to set up a foundation called My Future Foundation to focus on activities for young Malaysians and provide them a forum to raise and discuss concerns and issues about race relations.
When Sept 16 came, it was Zaid who was referred to as the man of the moment by Malaysian media, not opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who had promised a government takeover that day.
Zaid's resignation after six months in the Cabinet shocked many, as he was considered one of PM Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's strong loyalists.
He is also popular in the liberal civil community and had vowed to bring forward ideas and proposals for a more transparent judiciary.
He had described the recent ISA arrests of opposition politician Teresa Kok, blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin and journalist Tan Hoon Cheng as the “last straw”.
His disappointment showed at the 40-minute press conference, where he said he was frustrated at facing “brickwalls” and apologised for his “failure” to effect change.
He elaborates in an e-mail interview with The New Paper.
When did you first think about resigning?
I first thought of resigning from the Cabinet after my first month in office. My idea of reform has been construed by some influential members of Cabinet and the party as undesirable and against party interests.
When was the tipping point?
When I was not able to do all these (reforms) and having heard the arguments against them, it then dawned on me that... my party was not ready.
Not ready for a process-driven system, not ready for meritocracy, not ready for greater levels of accountability and a truly independent judiciary. They would like to cling on to the leverages of power based on discretion and privileges.
I could not do much without the support. So, on Sept 12, when they detained Member of Parliament Teresa Kok under the ISA, a journalist for reporting what an Umno leader said — which in my view smacks of racism — and the blogger, I said enough is enough.
What went through your mind as you mulled over this decision to resign?
It was not difficult as I had to endure calls from my party to resign even within my first month. I was labelled an Opposition reformer. I wasn't able to get support from those stakeholders whose support was necessary for me to be effective.
How supportive have your family and friends been?
My family has been very supportive especially my wife, even though I forgot to tell her. She and the rest of my family fully understand my reasons.
(Some friends) said that I could have achieved more by remaining a member of Cabinet.
I want to reassure them that I've thought this through and through and I've come to the conclusion that I could stay on for a few more years, but I would not have achieved much.
Did you seek anybody's advice before you made your decision? Whose was it and what did he or she say?
No. But as I confronted all the challenges in the last six months, I did get advice from many quarters including a senior statesman of an Asean country whom I respect very much.
He advised that I should be patient when faced with adversity.
Advice, suggestions and reflections are good most of the time. But on matters that are dear to our heart, discussions will not change much.
I believe that my country is at a crossroads. I truly feel that the institutions of government, the courts, the police and the judiciary, need a major overhaul... a major clean-up.
Since I was not able to effect positive changes to these things, I resigned.
What has been the reaction to your resignation?
Those who are critical of or oppose my views about the need for rule of law, about justice and fairness for all, were jubilant.
They said I was arrogant, not a true Malay patriot, not a team player.
But the overwhelming response and views of the people of Malaysia have been very supportive of my decision. I'm deeply touched.
I never thought a single act of resignation would trigger such a response throughout the country and from all Malaysians.
Do you rule out politics then? If so, what would make you consider rejoining?
I did not resign after six months just to be in the record books as being the only minister to have resigned from the Cabinet on a matter of principle since Merdeka.
I resigned because I was not able to effectively serve the country. However, just because I'm no longer a minister does not mean I'm out of politics.
I will do whatever I can to make Malaysia better. I'm not quitting politics.
Datuk Anwar Ibrahim has said that defections would allow him to gain majority rule he needs to form a government. Though this is legal, what are your thoughts on this method of gaining control of Parliament?
Crossovers are permitted under our laws. So if Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has the support of the majority of the House, he can form the new government.
Of course, I would have preferred that we have an “anti-hopping law”, which I proposed, but (it) did not find favour with either my own party or with the Opposition. — The New Paper